Amanda Mineer, a lawyer with Veterans Law Group who has been representing U.S. military veterans in their Department of Veterans Affairs claims, says veterans are struggling as they navigate the agency’s holiday slow-down period, compounding what she said is already a stressful and financially difficult part of the year.
In an interview with American Military News, Mineer said “In my experience, the VA slows down this time of year, and on top of that right now there’s all the COVID stuff going around, that they haven’t been doing exams as promptly as they could have been, they’re not issuing decisions as promptly as they were. This whole year has been kind of odd, but we always see a slowdown of stuff coming out of the VA in November, December, and then about halfway through January.”
Mineer said the holiday season can be particularly tough for veterans if they are having their VA claims processed.
“Those denials or those under ratings come year-round,” Mineer said, but “we start to see, this time of year a lot of veterans, a lot of people in general struggle this time of year, when it comes to depression and anxiety, that kind of thing.”
Mineer said financial stress from holiday spending can also make things difficult for veterans trying to get their VA benefits. Mineer said those financial stresses can look like “a father who can’t provide for his children just day-to-day, let alone being able to buy them Christmas gifts and provide for Thanksgiving dinner, that kind of thing, so it becomes a lot more stressful.”
While the holidays can be difficult, Mineer said “you don’t have to stop working on your claim. You can come to us . . . and start getting some hope through the holidays that this is not always going to be this way.”
Mineer began practicing veteran-related law seven years ago after a personal friend returned from serving in Iraq and then struggled to hold a job and pursue higher education while dealing with the VA. At the time, Mineer had primarily worked as a business lawyer but began working with veterans after her friend’s experience with the VA. She joined the Veterans Law Group, a firm dedicated to helping veterans with their VA claims.
She primarily helps veterans appeal their VA claims after they have already been denied or who have been “underrated” by the VA. To be underrated means to be rated for benefits below the level warranted by a veteran’s needs and by what they earned through their service history.
Mineer also said the VA’s processes for dealing with benefits claims have recently changed. In February 2019, the VA implemented a new process with different appeals documents and processing times, but it running that new process at the same time it also maintains its older process. She said while the VA move was meant to speed up processing times, the VA cleared a backlog of its older cases by issuing denials to many of the benefits claims.
Mineer said the new appeals process also entails the VA calling a veteran about their case only twice before making a decision on their case. If the veteran misses those phone calls, the VA will move forward with a decision on their benefits case without the veteran’s input. Mineer said in practice, that VA policy has led to cases being denied because the VA called outside of an expected time or they called the veteran instead of the veteran’s requested legal representative. Mineer said when the VA completes its phone calls, a case can be denied and it starts the appeals process all over again.
Mineer said her goal and the goal of the Veterans Law Group is to take the responsibility of dealing with the VA off of a veteran’s hands.
“I want to just take the burden off of the veteran of having to deal with the bureaucracy, remembering the deadlines, file paperwork that they need, So I look at it as ‘let me take this case over and I’ll let you know what I need from you,'” Mineer said.